Page last updated at 23:40 GMT, Sunday, 15 June 2008 00:40 UK

NHS trusts 'failing on hygiene'

Hospital cleaning
Cleanliness is one area covered by the hygiene standards

A quarter of NHS trusts in England are failing to meet at least one of the government's standards on hygiene, a watchdog has said.

The Healthcare Commission found no improvement since last year, despite the focus on areas such as cleanliness.

Next April, trusts will have to meet a range of standards in order to be given a "licence for business".

The commission warned that meant the 103 failing trusts had just 10 months to address its findings.

Just under a third of them also failed to meet all of the 11 standards on hygiene last year.

Conditions

From April 2009 a new "super-regulator", the Care Quality Commission will combine the functions of the Healthcare Commission, the Commission for Social Care Inspection and the Mental Health Act Commission.

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Trusts which do not meet the hygiene standards on infection control, decontamination of equipment and cleanliness could be prevented from operating.

However, the most likely outcome is that they would continue to operate under strict conditions which may include preventing a trust from running a service, or closing a service for a period of time.

The Healthcare Commission data is based on information provided by the 391 trusts in England.

It covers a range of other core standards set out by the government four years ago which also includes safety, dignity in care and hospital food.

Overall, there is improvement.

Hospitals in particular were found to be performing better than last year, but primary care trusts are doing less well overall.

Of the 103 trusts failing on hygiene, 57 were primary care trusts.

'Few' are perfect

PCTs are responsible for care outside hospitals, including community hospitals - which is where much of the difficulty in meeting hygiene standards lies.

FAILING STANDARDS
Failing all three hygiene standards:
North Lincolnshire PCT
Failing two out of three:
Barnet and Chase Farm Hospitals NHS Trust, London
Brent Treaching PCT, London
Bromley Hospitals NHS Trust
East and North Hertfordshire NHS Trust
East Sussex Downs and Weald PCT
Eastern and Coastal Kent PCT
Hampshire PCT
Hastings and Rother PCT
Hereford Hospitals NHS Trust
Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust
North Cumbria Acute Hospitals NHS Trust
Royal Cornwall Hospitals NHS Trust
South Staffordshire PCT
South West Essex PCT
Stockport PCT
Surrey PCT
The Princess Alexandra Hospital NHS Trust, Essex
Wandsworth PCT
West Sussex PCT
Wiltshire PCT

Decontamination was a particular worry, with PCTs making up two thirds of the 70 trusts failing to meet acceptable standards on this issue.

The Healthcare Commission said much of the problem lay in using inadequate processes, such as bench-top sterilisers, instead of carrying out decontamination away from clinical areas in separate, sterile areas.

But the commission admitted it had published new guidance over the year which had meant trusts now have to meet "clearer and tighter standards".

Anna Walker, chief executive of the commission, said: "Come April 2009, all NHS hospitals will have to abide by the elements of the hygiene code.

"Our summary shows trusts don't believe they are there yet. And they only have 10 months."

The commission also warned that "very few" trusts were perfect on every aspect of the code.

Health minister Ben Bradshaw said: "We are pleased that infection control is showing significant improvement - reflecting the importance both the government and public place on this.

"Trusts that are not compliant need to take action immediately."


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